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01/19/2010 Artists of the World Unite!


One of the more surprising parts of reading Seth Godin's new book "Linchpin" is that you have to wait until page 22 before there's a reference to Marx and Engels. That's because, for the first 20 pages, this new book reads like "Das Kapital" for the digital age.

Seth Godin's "Linchpin" is a culmination of his previous books, all of which point to a shift in the way we work and create products, but none of them put all the pieces together as powerfully as "Linchpin." Our world, our economic reality, is going through massive transformation leaving those of us working (or not) to suffer the consequences. "Linchpin" seeks to rally individuals to rise up and meet that challenge on our own, rather than waiting for someone to tell us what to do.

Simply put, "Linchpin" is to people as "Purple Cow" was to products.

Linchpin The book starts out by showing us how the social contract around work has broken down in the post-industrial age. The old promises: work hard, fit in, follow the rules, be loyal, and have broken down and instead of receiving rewards for doing this, workers lose their jobs. "Linchpin" speaks about the need to make yourself indispensable by standing out. But it's the how we stand out that's at issue.

I've certainly read and talked a lot about social media. We all know the tenets: listen, be authentic, share, and be nice and, most of all be generous. Seth turns these tenets on their heads. Businesses can't act this way unless we, the people working there, or representing them, act that way. He asks us to follow our muse to the place where we can act that way, whether it's going out on our own, or doing it in the place where we work. It's this way of acting, rather than the skills we know, or our ROI, that's the Linchpin currency.

In some way, we've read all of this before in books like Rules for Revolutionaries, Who Moved My Cheese, Free Prize Inside and Ignore Everyone. What makes Linchpin different is that Seth connects these thoughts and puts them into the context of the 21st century. And he doesn't provide a map (because there are no maps, hurray) or a checklist because the book is about not having maps or checklists. Instead, he provides great insight and encouragement.

Some of the insight is hard to take. The middle chapter on Resistance, on what's going to make you give up, almost made me put down the book. Almost. Seth spends the first half of the book calling the readers genius, then he peeks inside our psyche to the place we hate fessing up to. And we all have it. The reasons for saying no. It actually reminded me of a passage from Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot":

"The thought that he has so well fulfilled his duties is no comfort or to him on the contrary it irritates him. 'This is what I wasted all my life on,' he says, 'this is what has fettered me hand and foot this is what has hindered me from doing something great. Had it not been for this I should certainly have discovered gunpowder or America I don t know precisely what but I would certainly have discovered it.'"

I remember reading that book with a friend in a college class and we both felt it was talking about us.

In the end we need to act like artists. That is what will set us, and our economy, free. According to Seth this means acting with extreme generosity. It's not even a "that which goes around, comes around philosophy." It's not about coming around at all. It's about putting something out there in the world that you're proud of and that makes you feel like your doing something good.

For those of you who can't be bothered to read the book, you're in luck because the movie is already out. Well, part of a movie anyway. In Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air" George Clooney gives out some of the important messages of Linchpin.
  • Message 1: It doesn't matter that you've worked in one place for 20 years or that you always did what the boss told you to do. You're fired. Following the rules and not making yourself indispensable made you expendable.
  • Message 2: Following the script doesn't work. When Anna Kendrick's character tries to formalize what Clooney does, it has disastrous results. It's not about following the script.
  • Message 3: Humanity works. There's a great scene of Clooney telling some poor schlep that instead of complaining, he should follow his old muse of cooking so he can earn the respect of himself, and his kids. Find the insight, and go with it.
The chapters on schools, though, raised my blood pressure.  Seth makes a compelling case that schools do not teach our kids what they need to know for the future. We still focus on industrial, 20th century skills and teachings in our 21st schools. Schools still train kids for factory jobs that no longer exist. Nowhere is this more apparent than the homework issue. Homework is simply teaching kids that unpaid overtime is the norm. I'm copying this chapter and sending it to my school board (oops, maybe I shouldn't have written that!).

Personally, I'm taking some other lessons away from this:
  1. I'm limiting my time on Twitter, e-mail and the Web. I hate to say that. I love Twitter; it's like my drug. But I buy Seth's argument that it's by tapping into a fear of missing out that's keeping me from other things. Hard to do, but I'm doing it.
  2. My plans for 2010, the ones that got me so jazzed up at the end of 2009 but that have gone on hold because of all the great work opportunities I have, need to come back. Work is great, but it's also an excuse.
  3. I'm going to be more generous with my time, advice and actions. I'm putting this on the wall to remind me to do it every day.
One thing I don't believe in the book, though, is on the last page where Seth says he's not trying to change the world. Come on Seth give me a break! Of course you're trying to change the world. You've always tried to do that.

Seth Godin's books and writings have always inspired me. Honestly, his work helped me make a leap of faith away from something secure to something risky. Having said that, I think Linchpin is his best work to date. It's inspiring, scary, and insightful.

At the end of the day, I'm a Godinist. 

That will be me on the top of the barricades shouting:

"Artists of the world Unite. You have nothing to lose but your discontent. You have a world to win."



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